The 2021 NBA draft class is one of the most talented in recent memory. The top four prospects are set in stone, but the rest of the draft class is still up in the air.
This year’s draft class is diverse, with the top talent coming from college, the new G-League Ignite team, and various overseas pro clubs. March Madness saw a handful of prospects boost their stock. Max Abmas put himself on the radar by playing every minute of Oral Robert’s Cinderella run. Jalen Suggs and Gonzaga came one game short of a perfect season, but his heroics along the way solidified him as a top-five prospect. Davion Mitchell probably received the biggest boost in his stock, as the Baylor guard showcased his two-way ability en route to Baylor’s first national championship since 1948.
The consensus on the top prospects in the 2021 NBA draft has changed as teams have had the opportunity to do further scouting. Here’s our top 10.
10. Cameron Thomas, SG LSU
There’s no question what Cameron Thomas will bring to an NBA team. Thomas is perhaps the most gifted scorer in this year’s loaded draft class. His coach at Oak Hill Academy, the legendary Steve Smith, said he’s never coached a scorer quite like Thomas. As a freshman at LSU, Thomas led the SEC in scoring at 23 PPG in 34 MPG. At 6′ 4″, 210 pounds, Thomas has prototypical size for an NBA wing.
There are concerns about Thomas’ game outside of putting the ball in the hoop. Some scouts question his ability to create for teammates, as he averaged just 1.4 assists per game at LSU. Another concern is Thomas’ ability to defend at an NBA level. He certainly has the tools to be a competent defender, but his effort and motor leave a lot to be desired. Even if Thomas doesn’t turn out to be a good defender, his pure scoring ability solidifies him as one of the top players in the 2021 NBA Draft.
9. Moses Moody, SG Arkansas
Moses Moody surpassed all expectations in his lone season at Arkansas. He earned SEC Rookie of the Year honors and was named All-SEC while averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Moody’s greatest strength is his scoring ability. He’s one of the best shooters in the draft, shooting 35.8% from three on over five attempts per game. Moody uses his smooth ball-handling and high release point to compensate for his lack of burst.
NBA scouts would like to see Moody lock in on defense more often. He has all the tools to be a good defender, as he showcased by averaging a steal per game at Arkansas. Moody can excel in the 3 and D role that is so valuable today in the NBA. If he can commit to being a lockdown defender at the next level, Moody has the potential to be a perennial All-Star.
8. James Bouknight, SG Connecticut
James Bouknight is the latest in a long line of electrifying guards coming out of UConn. While he didn’t lead the team to tournament glory like Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier, Bouknight took home All-Big East honors in his second collegiate season.
Bouknight is a prime example of an explosive athlete who took the time to hone their craft. He brings that Obi Toppin type of excitement where one possession he’ll be throwing down a windmill on the fast break, and the next he’s hitting a contested step-back three. Bouknight’s efficiency numbers don’t reflect his actual shooting ability. After shooting 34.7% from three as a freshman, Bouknight made a measly 29.3% of threes as a sophomore. This was largely due to an increase in volume, as he attempted twice as many threes in his sophomore campaign than as a freshman. His 80% career free throw average reassures scouts that Bouknight is a capable shooter. For NBA teams lacking a volume scorer, Bouknight is capable of coming right in and serving that role.
7. Davion Mitchell, PG/SG Baylor
Davion Mitchell led the Baylor Bears to a historic title run. His sheer dominance on both sides of the ball propelled the team to victories over some of the tournament’s best teams, including undefeated Gonzaga. Mitchell is one of those players who showcase their passion for the game on every play. His competitive nature is on display when he’s playing defense. It’s easy to tell that Mitchell takes pride in defending and stopping the other team’s best player. Mitchell is arguably the best on-ball defender in the draft. That will likely be his calling card upon entering the league.
Mitchell is not a one-trick pony, however. His scoring ability has come a long way. Throughout March Madness, Mitchell showcased his lightning-quick first step and his noticeably improved handle. When he was hitting shots, Mitchell appeared to be unstoppable. He’d blow by his defender with ease then hit a step-back three on the next possession to keep them guessing. Mitchell’s ceiling resembles a player he’s already being compared to Donovan Mitchell (no relation). If he can continue to improve his skillset, Davion Mitchell can be the leading man on a playoff team.
6. Scottie Barnes, SF Florida State
Scottie Barnes is one of those prospects where their potential is blindingly obvious. At 6′ 9″ with a 7′ 2″ wingspan, Barnes has excellent size for a primary ball-handler. Barnes utilizes his long strides and ridiculously long reach (think Michael Jordan in Space Jam) to attack the rim. While he still has a lot of work to do on his jumper –27.5% from three on 1.7 attempts per game— Barnes’ playmaking ability and sheer size should render him a net-positive player on offense.
Defense is where Barnes truly excels. In the most position-less NBA to date, switchability is a trait teams covet. Barnes’ guard-like agility coupled with his lengthy wingspan allows him to guard all five positions. Barnes’ ceiling looks like a Draymond Green type of player. What he lacks in shooting ability, Scottie Barnes more than makes up for in every other aspect of the game.
5. Jonathan Kuminga, SF Ignite
Jonathan Kuminga decided to join the G-League’s new Team Ignite instead of college or playing overseas. It seems to have been the right decision. Kuminga averaged nearly 16 points in 13 games against NBA-level competition. He showcased his elite athleticism and improving skill level. Kuminga can plug in at either forward slot. His size allows him to defend bigs, and his skill lets him play on the perimeter. Kuminga shot five threes per game with Team Ignite. While he only made 24.6% of them, he showed that he is capable of shooting in volume, a big question mark for him coming out of high school.
Kuminga at his peak could resemble a more athletic Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has shown that a raw prospect can develop an advanced offensive arsenal. If Kuminga can be an average shooter, he has All-Star potential. If he can be an above-average shooter, we’re looking at a potential top 10 player in the NBA.
4. Jalen Suggs, PG Gonzaga
While Jalen Suggs didn’t get the fairytale ending he wanted, his heroic performance in March Madness solidified the Gonzaga guard as a top 5 pick. Throughout the Zags’ nearly undefeated season, Suggs held the keys to the offense.
Jalen Suggs has very few weaknesses. His history as a top recruit at quarterback is evident as he throws pinpoint bullets down the court with ease. This LaMelo Ball playmaking ability coupled with Suggs’ reliable three-point shot and tight handle make for a prospect coming into the league ready to contribute immediately. Suggs has a high ceiling and a high floor, so even if he doesn’t reach his full potential, he has more than enough talent to contribute to an NBA team for years to come. Suggs projects as an upgraded Tyrese Halliburton. His strong 6′ 4″ build and high defensive IQ round out one of the most complete prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft.
3. Jalen Green, SG Ignite
Jalen Green joined Jonathan Kuminga as the pioneers of the G League to NBA route. Like Kuminga, Green showed why he’s considered a top 5 prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft. Green averaged nearly 18 points per game while shooting 36.5% from three on 5.7 attempts per game.
Jalen Green has been a household name since he was in high school. His high-flying mixtapes propelled the young guard to celebrity status before he even went pro. In 15 games with Team Ignite, Green showed that the hype is well-deserved. He’s a dynamic scorer with MVP-caliber potential. Green projects as a Zach LaVine type of player. His mix of athleticism, skill, and shooting will allow Green to shoulder the load of an NBA offense early in his career.
2. Evan Mobley, C USC
Evan Mobley is proof that the center position is not a dying breed. Mobley is one the best center prospects since Anthony Davis came out of Kentucky. Many compare his game to Davis’. It’s a valid comparison.
Mobley showed why he was the top recruit in the nation at Rancho Christian. In his freshman season, Mobley earned PAC-12 Rookie of the Year, PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and PAC-12 Player of the Year. His size at 7′ 0″ with a 7′ 4″ wingspan is ideal for an NBA center. Mobley’s ability to contest shots at the rim is Davis-esque. He averaged almost three blocks per game at USC. His offensive arsenal isn’t exactly extensive, but Mobley has developed a reliable jump hook and a promising outside shot. Rookie centers typically have a steep learning curve on defense, so don’t expect a DPOY campaign out of Mobley right out of the gates. However, if Mobley can further develop his outside shot and gain a bit of muscle, he should be in MVP conversations for years to come.
1. Cade Cunningham, PG Oklahoma State
Cade Cunningham was the consensus number one overall prospect at the start of the season. He has only distanced himself from the competition since then. One must nitpick to find a weakness in Cunningham’s game. At 6′ 8″, 220 pounds, Cunningham is a point guard in a power forward’s body. He can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and defend at a high level.
A popular hypothetical is putting an NBA star on a college team and seeing how well they perform. Cade Cunningham is an example. He led an otherwise lackluster Oklahoma State team to a March Madness berth while averaging 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. Cunningham is one of the most complete prospects we’ve ever seen. There’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Cade Cunningham is as close as it gets. Whatever team lands the first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft will be in good hands for the next decade or so. Cade Cunningham is a franchise maker.